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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Vietnam

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Vietnam, February 1998, available at: [accessed 18 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

For the Vietnamese press, which has suffered threats, arrests, and tightened regulations, the appointment in late December of a hard-line general to the top Communist Party post signaled even tougher times ahead. Gen. Le Kha Phieu, 66, succeeded economic reform advocate Do Muoi, 80, as general secretary of the party. An advocate of unyielding party control, Gen. Phieu has warned against Western cultural influences in the country as a result of economic liberalization policies put in place in recent years. His appointment was widely seen as heralding a tightening of controls on free expression, especially independent press investigations of official corruption.

A CPJ delegation that visited Vietnam in 1996 found many officials willing to engage in open dialogue about press freedom. Many journalists at the time were pushing the limits of free expression and investigative reporting in the context of state-controlled media. Unfortunately, the mood of relative openness CPJ found in 1996 has been replaced by an official hard-line response toward the nascent independent press.

In early December, the powerful Interior Ministry announced plans to open a new press wing to monitor and control media coverage. The Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army) newspaper said the press center would ensure political correctness in news about security matters. Just four days after the announcement, Huu Tho, head of the Central Committee of Ideology and Culture and the country's top propaganda official, warned news editors to exercise extreme caution in their use of foreign news reports, which he said were potentially dangerous. He was quoted in the Cong An Nhan Dan (People's Police) newspaper as telling an Interior Ministry conference, "We have opened the door to the outside world, but we should be alert." Also in December, the Kinh Doanh Va Phap Luat newspaper was investigated over unspecified "reporting problems" and journalists at the paper said the publication was under threat of closure for carrying stories "which could be used by outsiders to criticize the country." Officials stopped short of shutting down the paper, however, after issuing a warning shortly after the New Year began.

Journalists were directly threatened on October 8 when Nguyen Hoang Linh, the editor of the state-run business newspaper Doang Nghiep (Enterprise), was arrested and charged with revealing state secrets. The arrest and charge – linked to reports Linh wrote in his newspaper exploring questionable business practices by the General Customs Department of Vietnam in the purchase of coastal patrol boats – were widely seen as a warning to reporters who may write about official misconduct.

While anger over government corruption and mismanagement resulted in unprecedented unrest and political demonstrations in some 30 towns and villages in rural Vietnam throughout the year, the local press failed to report on the incidents. In March, the government reacted to reports of defaults and corrupt practices in several banks by imposing sweeping restrictions on coverage of banking and finance. The order compelled domestic news organizations to clear financial stories with censors at the Ministry of Culture's Press Department and gave the official State Bank of Vietnam the power to classify routine financial information as a state secret. In October, the government issued a decree barring domestic journalists from passing information or photographs to foreign journalists without state approval. Foreign news agencies were also banned from hiring local journalists. Instructions were issued to all domestic media in October demanding adherence to Communist Party policy and criticizing newspapers for reporting inaccuracies and revealing state secrets. The official Vietnam News Agency said the directive, issued at politburo level, stressed the media's role in forming healthy public opinion.

The government finally announced plans to allow full-time live access to the Internet from within the country but said that officials would create a fire wall to prevent access to banned information. While officials have not released a list of proscribed subjects, they intend to control access and, with the passage of sweeping Internet censorship laws, they now have that statutory prerogative.

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